What is Barrie doing about Affordable Housing

We have a housing problem in Barrie, and it’s not overstating it to call it a crisis.  This post is about a few of the steps we are taking to help, but some context is important first.

The waitlist for affordable housing in Simcoe County is about 2,700 households, roughly one-third of whom are from Barrie (click here to read the County’s 2012 centralized waitlist report).

The rental vacancy rate in Barrie in 2012 was 2.7%, and was actually zero for three bedroom units, important for families.  Average rents are just under $1,000.  The net effect of this, I believe, is driving some of the increase in food bank usage and other demands for assistance, even as unemployment in Barrie drops and the number of people on Ontario Works (welfare) drops as well.  Low wages and the rise in temporary work is also probably a factor.

Now, I’m someone who looks first at whether there’s something not working in the housing market.  There are a lot of reasons for the low rental vacancy rate in Barrie, both on the demand side and the supply side.  I think part of the problem is that we are not seeing a lot of rental housing created.  There are many reasons for this as well – NIMBY, restrictive planning policies, regulations (mostly provincial) that scare aware landlords, the popularity of condominium apartments, and others.

So what is Barrie doing?  Not enough, but we are taking some steps:

1.  Investing More in Expanding Housing – This year, the City will contribute $1.8m more toward Simcoe County’s social housing than last year, to help fund the construction of a new seniors-oriented affordable housing project on Brooks Street.  This will provide 54 new units for seniors living on low income.


2. Supportive Tax Changes – I blogged about this earlier in the year, here.  Barrie is equalizing its tax ratios so multi-residential properties pay the same tax rate as single residential (generally multi-res properties are rental apartments; condos are “single residential” rather than multi).

3. More Supportive Planning Policies  – to support the construction of more townhouse and apartment units, the City has designated areas of the city for higher densities.  To date, many of these projects have been high-end condos.  However we are now starting to see a broader mix of built forms and a range of target prices.  The increased supply can only help with keeping rents reasonable.  There’s a report coming to Barrie Council early in 2014 on other steps than can be taken to ensure a broader range of housing choices are available.

4. Supporting the Pathways Project – in 2011, Councillors Prowse and Nuttall brought a motion to Council to support the concept of a new social services hub.  This has taken shape in the form of the proposed “Pathways” project, which is an alliance of some 23 non-profits, charities, and social service agencies, dedicated to co-ordinating efforts in support of reducing homelessness.  The City dedicated a staff member to this project, and the proceeds of my Big Roof Fest concert in January of 2013 were partly put towards this initiative.

Despite these steps, more clearly needs to be done.  Fortunately there’s a plan – Simcoe County has a new 10-year Affordable Housing and Homelessness Prevention Strategy.  It’s a plan to build 2,600 more units over the next ten years around the County, about three times the number of units built in the last ten years.

However, local government is not going to be able to solve this problem alone, not without a major effort by all three levels of government, and both the federal and provincial governments show no signs of making affordable housing a focus for the foreseeable future.  All levels of government will need to commit to this issue if homelessness and affordable housing are to be meaningfully addressed, and in the past both the Federal Government (through CMHC) and the Provincial Government (through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing) have played a much larger role in ensuring a reasonable supply of affordable housing.  Barrie and Simcoe County need them to commit to a shared effort to address our housing problem.

Last – if you’re wondering if there is a financial case for making this investment, consider these numbers, which I’ve taken from page 28 of the County Affordable Housing Strategy:

$49.5 Billion – the amount of money that Canadian taxpayers spent between 1994 and 2004 to fund
emergency services to manage homelessness. Homelessness continued to increase
across the country
$4.5 Billion – $6 Billion – a conservative estimate of the annual cost of homelessness in 2007 for the provision
of emergency service to manage homelessness in Canada. Homelessness continued
to increase.
$66,000 – $120,000 – the annual cost of institutional responses (health and/or corrections) per homeless
person that uses a lot of services.
$13,000 – $18,000 – the annual cost of emergency shelters per person.
$1,268,479 – total cost of emergency and community based shelters in Simcoe County in 2012

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.


7 Responses to “What is Barrie doing about Affordable Housing”
  1. Chad says:

    Definitely include new design ideas in the plan/discussion. Density, floorplan design, towers vs condos vs townhomes.

  2. Heather Morgan says:

    So glad to hear about the initiatives the city is undertaking. I look forward to seeing these developments take place. The cost of *not* acting is too high – financially, socially, educationally and generational.

  3. Concerned citizen says:

    The only way to bring in affordable housing is to tackle the elephant in the too
    . That is admit we have a problem here. I am happy that you at least reconize a part of the problem. Low wage and part time jobs create poverty. So we cannot keep promoting just retail and call centers etc.

    We need to bring in proper industry here that will benefit the city. Such as wind solar and ethanol. Alternative energy that can actually sustain us in multiple ways.

    The second thing is the small amount of realtors that drive up costs with their con man tricks. They have been selling snake oil and have caused an over value of the market. And lastly banksters who push mortages for these over valued houses. Some sort of policy and or law should be written to rain them in and create punishment to over value or under value against market conditions

  4. Disabled person says:

    While I am glad to see that the projects are in the works, I being a person on disability and in my mid 50’s have been living for 5 years in a room in a basement that I share with others because I cannot possibly afford to pay the obnoxious rents in this city. My life is not comfortable at all. I have 2 granddaughters that I can’t even have over to visit because it is not acceptable when you rent a room. I paid my dues for many years and now I have to end my life this way. I have been on the waiting list for housing for over 5 years now and I am still approximately 15 years down the list. So therefore I don’t expect that in my lifetime I will ever be able to enjoy a place to call home, I will always have to live in someone else’s home, under their rules and share a bathroom. I have zero quality of life after 20 years in an extremely abusive marriage and having to walk away from everything to keep myself safe this is what life has left me with. I am not looking for sympathy but I am looking for the hopes that maybe in the future others won’t have to live the poor quality of life that I live as I enter into my senior years.
    I hope these projects happen sooner than later for all those out there whom need this.
    I hope that maybe there can be some kind of law put into place that does not allow these people with their rental properties to drive the prices any higher. It is not affordable to anyone to pay the outrageous rents in this city.
    Good luck with these proposals

  5. Karren Kilpatrick says:

    Dear Mr Lehman – affordable housing in the Simcoe Region is an under statement, the monthly rental ranges here in Barrie are equivalent to what Cities with promising work environments are, Barrie’s economic and development is based on commercial at minimum wage pay therefore single individuals can in no way afford the unreasonable expectations in this Simcoe rental market.

    The need here is low income housing based on a payable of 33 percent of a person’s wages carved out for accommodations. We need funding allocated via province and municipalities to join forces and build these units. This region is growing rapidly and population from neighboring metropolis are moving in this direction, we have baby boomers who are approaching retirement that find themselves single on one income or disability pensions and can’t meet the demands of inflation.

    Mr. Lehman your economic committee need to take a vast approach and step up to this challenge with enormous effort – wait times currently for single low income housing is 10 years minimum but that is changing as seniors are living longer.

    I’m a divorse woman living on disabity based on recent unfortunate medical conditions and have been waiting for simcoe housing since 2012 and I’m bouncing from one place to another for a roof over my head – my personal possessions are being stored at one location while I’m bouncing around – this is hindering any possible recovery in my health at the moment.

    I’ve done all the required documents that could put my name in a catagory of emergency housing with doctors assistance, Ann Hoggarth office etc… but to no avail I’m still bouncing!!!!

  6. Donna Simoncini says:

    I also am a 50 something woman on a disability trying to survive with the outrageous rents and landlords full of their attitudes towards us “lazy” people. Instead of building affordable housing, how about an increase in our income to bring us up to the actual cost of living? Building affordable housing units takes time and a lot of money. I think the solution is to give us more money so we can live like actual humans and not fall prey to people who victimize us simply because they know they will get away with it. They do not fear anyone who doesn`t have the cash for a lawyer! We are treated like TRASH! This is not what I had planned for my later years! Pure B.S.! Like I don`t already have enough to deal with!

  7. Donna Simoncini says:

    Did my comment which was waiting for moderation vanish?

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